I know, I know; the sensationalist title is over the top. Still, I can’t help but worry about the future of the Oculus Rift, the “next step in bringing virtual reality to gaming,” and further, the future of innovation as a whole.
If you haven’t heard by now, it was announced that Oculus VR was acquired by Facebook for an estimated $2 Billion. Unsurprisingly, the news of the acquisition sent Oculus Rift devotees, a large portion of them gamers, into a frenzy, many prophesying the oncoming death of their beloved peripheral.
My initial reaction was similar. As a gamer, I’ve become numb to acquisitions, layoffs, and video game companies folding. The video game industry is incredibly volatile and unstable. Electronic Arts (EA) acquisitions are an example of this trend. The mega video game company has made a living scooping up smaller studios and developers and wringing them dry.
The chorus of cries when EA consumes yet another victim is always the same. There’s usually a small contingent of optimists that hold out hope for a peaceful outcome. Then there’s an even smaller group that say they cannot blame the small company for taking EA’s money while they can. Then the rest are just an amalgam of anger, frustration and depression.
If you don’t follow gaming news much, you may be wondering why gamers feel this way. “Isn’t it good that a small company has gotten their ‘just due’ and made money that they worked hard for?” Well, yes, of course. Unfortunately, the small company has entered into the state of “Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”
Here’s an example story: You, your sister, your friend, and a guy from a message board you used to moderate, have all been meeting after work and school for about a year creating a really cool concept for a video game that you had pioneered.
After the year, you realize that your idea for this game is wonderful, never before seen, but unattainable with the few people currently working on it for the few hours that they do. So you head to Kickstarter, create a quick name for your “studio,” and your game idea becomes an instant hit. Within a week, your dream project gets kickstarted, and at the end of the backing period, it has gotten three-times the amount you asked for. The hype is real, gaming blogs and sites have picked it up, and now you can start to make your dream come to fruition.
Then the problems start to mount. Even after hiring three more people, you can’t seem to get enough done. You aren’t paying your team members very much, so they have other jobs and still go to school as well. You quit school for a little bit to focus on the game, since the people who kickstarted your project have backed you with real money and are expecting a product in a reasonable timeframe.
You push back the release date, hoping to not have to eventually do the most dreaded thing in video game development: cutting out features. After the third release date push back, hope is starting to fade. You realize that the amount of money it would actually take to make this game a reality is not attainable barring a miracle. Crawling under a rock is sounding more and more better each passing minute.
Then EA sends you an email. They say that they have been monitoring your game development and are impressed. They would love to help make your dream come to life. They understand that the costs of game development are ridiculous. So if you send them what you have so far, and they like it, they would be willing to back you.
Of course, your studio would be absorbed into the EA Family, and EA would have final say on all decisions from there on out. Mostly, they want to make sure the game is “Economically Viable.”
“Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.” If you take the offer, you know your pet project will most likely be changed to just a husk of what you saw in your dreams. The gamers, the ones who backed you in the first place, won’t see the vision that you laid out for them. Still, it would be something, and financially you can help yourself and the others on your team, a good amount too. If you don’t take the offer, well, you may never be able to get the game finished. At the very least, it would take many more years to complete, and that’s just crazy to ask of your team and those that backed you.
Worst of all, someone else, possibly even EA, may use their incredible monetary power to bull rush ahead of you and release something similar before you can get yours out the door.
So, as you can see, it’s a tough decision, one I would be loath to make. This is where we stand with the Oculus Rift. They had pushed back production a couple of times already, and coming out this year was never guaranteed. When you add to that the news that both Sony and Microsoft are both doing their own versions of a VR device, you get a small company that may be thinking its time is nearly up. In comes Facebook to save the day.
Unless you are actually Palmer Luckey and have the decision between taking $2 Billion or declining and banking on yourself and your dream project, you cannot say without a doubt what you would do.
Still, if you take the money, the outcome is often the same. That is, your baby becomes a prostitute for the big company. You are rich now, but you’ll always wonder if you would have been rich anyways, but under your own watch and in charge of your own game.
“Thanks for your awesome idea, the check is the mail. We will make a ton more in profits anyways chump.”
So what’s the point of this post, anyways? Well, for one, I’ve been meaning to write on something in the gaming world, especially since my blog is titled “The Casual Gamer.” Two, I wanted to think about the two different extremes of the kind of world we could be living in given a) no one took the mega corporation’s money, or b) everyone took the money.
I’ll talk about that in the next post.
(EDIT: I have decided to not talk about that in my next post.)